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Welsh universities – committed to Widening Access

Widening access is about increasing opportunities for people from a diverse range of backgrounds to higher education. Universities in Wales are committed to ensuring that everyone with the determination, skills and desire to access higher education should be able to do so.

Widening access should not be a ‘numbers game’, nor should it solely be about potential students from one particular community. It should not be ‘how many’ or ‘what percentage’ of communities can be enrolled. It is much more than that. It is about offering every person, regardless of circumstances, the opportunity to access a higher level learning experience that is appropriate, relevant and valuable.

Universities in Wales perform well in widening access. Recent figures show:

  • Our universities continue to have higher proportions of students from the most under-represented groups compared to the UK as a whole
  • Over 92% of young full time undergraduate entrants to Welsh higher education were from state schools or colleges – greater than the UK as a whole
  • The proportion of young full time undergraduate entrants from low participation communities was over 13% – higher than the UK figure
  • Over 20% of full time undergraduate entrants were mature. Over 16% of these had no previous higher education experience and were from a low participation community – greater than the proportion for the UK as a whole
  • Over 10% of part time undergraduate entrants had no previous higher education experience, and were from a low participation community – higher than the UK
  • The proportion of full time undergraduate students in receipt of Disabled Students Allowance was over 7% – greater than the proportion for the UK as a whole.

It is about offering every person, regardless of circumstances, the opportunity to access a higher level learning experience…

Universities, schools and colleges, working in partnership with government and other agencies, are all playing their part by helping students develop high level skills, which assists them in securing good quality employment, thus contributing to breaking the cycle of poverty. Employment can offer a route out of poverty, and universities have a central role in developing high level skills, which enables graduates to access employment.

In Wales, we are proud that 91% of graduates from full time first degree courses are employed within six months of leaving university – higher than the UK average. Furthermore, while more can be done, Wales has an excellent track record in widening access, and as new technology and flexible provision develops, the sector is embracing these opportunities to enhance its efforts further. Universities are exploring how developments in open and online learning provision presents the sector with an opportunity to engage with a wide range of school age pupils, including those from low participation communities. These open and online resources and courses offer us an opportunity to bring the experience of higher education material directly to non-traditional learners.

But more can be done. Universities are delivering a range of activities aimed at widening access. These include: talent opportunities programmes, working with schools to raise aspirations and breakdown perceived barriers; residential summer sessions which provide an academic and social programme to develop skills, research centres aimed at reducing educational inequalities; homework clubs supporting school children with their homework and exam preparation; local study opportunities, including bite-size courses delivered flexibly to meet student and employer needs; and schemes which directly link up graduates and employers to help employers in Wales gain access to higher level skills and innovative thinking.

Economic austerity should not prevent individuals’ from accessing higher education. Ensuring that education can deliver social justice for Wales requires a collaborative approach that begins when a child enters the education system, and provides support throughout an individual’s life.